Ilhan Omar is once again being attacked by her own party for speaking out

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Wolfgang Schwan/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Wolfgang Schwan/Rex/Shutterstock

The Bad Faith Brigade come for Ilhan Omar yet again

Here are the rules, OK? The United States is the greatest, most moral country to ever exist. It brings democracy to all the poor savages in the rest of the world, who are incapable of knowing what’s good for them. It doesn’t commit war crimes, there’s just some occasional collateral damage amid all that democracy-building. Its allies are morally righteous, its enemies are entirely evil. Do not question any of that, do not query American exceptionalism, and you will have a very fruitful career in US politics or cable news.

Ilhan Omar, alas, seems to have a hard time remembering these rules. The progressive Democratic congresswoman is once again being censured by her own party for what appears to be the crime of being an outspoken black Muslim woman. Nobody getting publicly outraged by Omar appears to have any interest in annoying things like context, but here’s the context for the latest manufactured controversy.

Related: Nancy Pelosi rebukes Ilhan Omar for tweet on Israel, Hamas and Taliban

On Monday, during a hearing by the House foreign affairs committee, Omar asked the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, a question about America’s stance toward the international criminal court (ICC) at the Hague. Omar noted that the US had opposed ICC investigations into potential crimes committed in Palestine and Afghanistan and asked how victims of war crimes are supposed go for justice if domestic courts won’t pursue justice. Blinken replied with an evasive answer, saying the US and Israel “both have the mechanisms to make sure that there is accountability in any situations where there are concerns about the use of force and human rights”. Understandably unsatisfied with this, Omar later tweeted a video of the exchange, saying: “We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. I asked @SecBlinken where people are supposed to go for justice.”

Promoting accountability and justice shouldn’t be controversial. But anytime Omar opens her mouth, rightwingers – most of whom probably think the ICC is a cable channel – rush to deliberately misinterpret her words. Omar was immediately accused of antisemitism and promoting false equivalencies by the right. And, as per usual she was accused of being an ungrateful immigrant. The delightful Tom Cotton chimed in to not-so-subtly suggest that the Omar should go back to where she came from. “@Ilhan was a refugee from Somalia and America welcomed her,” Cotton tweeted. “If she really believes America is a hateful country on par with the Taliban and Hamas, she’s welcome to leave.”

You expect bad faith attacks from the right. That’s what they do. Omar could say “I like roses” and the right would find a way to accuse her of promoting communism and hating America. But Democrats should know – and do – better. They should be in the business of protecting their colleagues from bad faith attacks. Instead the highest levels of Democratic leadership chimed in to rebuke Omar for what was clearly a mischaracterization of her comments.

The “Squad” are constantly described as divisive and accused of sparking in-fighting among the Democrats. But what’s more divisive than helping to incite hatred towards a colleague? If Democrats had a problem with Omar’s wording they could have talked to her in private. But, as she noted on Twitter, they didn’t. They chose to add fuel to bad faith Republican attacks and incite violence towards a congresswoman who is already a prominent target for abuse. “Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”

I’m sick and tired of it too. This latest episode is about more than Omar’s thoughts on the ICC – it’s about Diversity™ more generally. Democrats seem to love “diversity” when it’s just diverse faces around a table. They’re not so keen on diverse voices, however. There’s this implication that if you’re a minority you should just shut up and be grateful for being given a seat at the table. You shouldn’t ask difficult policy questions. You shouldn’t suggest America isn’t the most benevolent place on earth. You should toe the line and be grateful.

What I admire about the Squad is that they are very vocal about their refusal to be used as tokens. In a 2019 speech at the Netroots Nation conference, Ayanna Pressley – who has defended Omar from this latest attack – said she wasn’t interested in bringing “a chair to an old table”. It’s time to shake that table, she said: “We don’t need any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.” What she was saying, her spokeswoman later stressed, was that “diversity at the table doesn’t matter if there’s not real diversity in policy”. By suggesting that the US actually be held accountable for its actions, Omar is pushing for real diversity in policy. It’s depressing her colleagues would rather wage bad faith personal attacks than engage with that.

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